Early Influences

I was asked a serious question the other day about the shapes of my treen – the wooden spoons, forks, and spatulas that I make. So, of course, I gave my usual pragmatic answer. The shapes are meant to be adjustable for different grips, hand sizes, and user preferences. Unfortunately, most commercially made stuff is square, straight, and unsuitable for alternate grips and use.

I’d get bored making the same thing over and over again. I’d get surlyâ€Ĥa surly woodworker with sharp tools might need a long sabbatical somewhere other than at a show where the object is to sell cherry treen.

So everything I’ve said up to this point is completely true. But it’s only part of the story. That night I had one of those dreams where I found myself back in Baltimore in my mentor’s studio. On the bench were a small block of waste walnut wood, my small gathering of tools, a series of clamps, and a mallet. Nearby stood Warburton, not my master, but my mentor. I had, at last, mastered sweeping the shop, ricking and stacking wood, and learned to sharpen my basic tool kit. This was it. I was going to be allowed to carve something. But first out came a stack of books. Warburton looked at me and said, “You’re going to investigate the world of shape, transition, and form. Spend as much time as you like reading. Then, when you feel ready, try something you’ve found that inspires you.
I read on and off for a few weeks. They were art books about Jean Arp, Henry Moore, Dali, and Picasso.
I impressed Warburton when I told him I’d casually stumbled into Dali as a kid in New York City. Yes, that’s right. I ran right in Dali while running full tilt down Sixth Avenue. The Maestro had helped pick me up. Warburton asked me what the master had said. “He said I should be more careful.” Warburton replied: “From the mouth of the master to the ear of the student.” Then, he shrugged and left me to my studies.

My first carvings turned out to be invested with the influences of Arp and Moore. While the significant body of my work as a carver has been rooted in the late 18th and 19th century as a maritime carver, all my early carvings were sculptural forms that echoed the contents of Warbuton’s selection of books. My first small sales and my first gallery appearances were those types of work.

Now back to treen! Those spoons and spatulas and the small bowls? That’s how those early influences ooze out. But despite my early personal interaction with Dali, I don’t think I’ll be carving any surrealistic eagles.

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